Lakeland, Fla. – Who knows what’s in store for Beau Brieske this season?
The talented, soon to be 25-year-old right-hander is likely to either make the club as a spot starter-long reliever in the bullpen or, depending on the health of the Tigers’ rotation, be starting every fifth day at Triple-A Toledo until his services are needed in Detroit.
But can we just for a second look back and marvel at how he persevered through his rookie season a year ago? A 27th-round draft pick in 2019 out of Division II Colorado State-Pueblo who didn’t pitch competitively in 2020, Brieske found himself thrown into the breach when the Tigers lost a string of starters to injury in April.
Talk about from the frying pan into the fire.
Colorado’s Connor Joe hit the second big-league pitch Brieske threw into the seats at Comerica Park. Brieske’s second start was at Dodger Stadium where Mookie Betts hit his second pitch of the game into the seats.
His third start was in Houston against the eventual World Series champions and he got through the first inning unscathed. Only to yield back-to-back home runs in the second inning to Chas McCormick and Martin Maldonado.
But he never got shell-shocked. In all three of those starts he went five innings and kept the Tigers in striking distance. This was the theme throughout his 15 starts. He gave up 24 runs in innings one through three, including three leadoff home runs. Aaron Judge ambushed him in Yankee Stadium on June 4, but Brieske limited the Yankees to two runs over six innings in that start.
First batters went 9 for 14 against him. Seven of the 14 homers he allowed led off innings.
But again, impressively, he didn’t cave. He allowed just 13 runs and limited hitters to a .209 batting average from the fourth inning on.
“Yeah, looking back, I struggled early in games and that’s the only time I really got hurt,” Brieske said Thursday after doing some light throwing and conditioning work. “If I would have cleaned up a few of my first innings, I would have had a lot different year than I did.
“I adjusted in the middle of the game, which is a good trait to have. I know if I can come out and I am sharp from the start I would’ve pieced together a better year.”
His year came to an abrupt halt on July 12 after he experienced soreness in his forearm which later morphed into tendinitis in his biceps. He worked valiantly to make it back before the end of the season, but even though he was throwing upper-90s fastballs in his last rehab start, the soreness didn’t abate.
It was immensely frustrating for him at the time, but he sees it now as a blessing.
“It allowed me to get a head start on the offseason and I made good use of that,” he said. “I pretty much got right to it once I got home. I was able to decompress and learn while I was still with the team and on the IL. I was able to look back and see what I did well and what I didn’t do well and what I want to adjust.
“I was able to build my offseason plan at that point so when I got home, I could get right to work.”
The Tigers medical and training staffs took a deep dive into the biomechanics of Brieske’s delivery, trying to determine where and how he was putting the extra stress on his arm. His offseason plan included mechanical adjustments, grip adjustments and body strengthening.
“I tried to look at it on the whole,” Brieske said. “What was putting stress on my body that might have led to me getting a little banged up. And also, I felt that went hand in hand with me not executing my offspeed and just the inefficiency in my delivery.
“I looked at it that way. If I could make the adjustment to my delivery, it would make executing pitches easier.”
He feels like his adjusted delivery is smoother, more fluid now. It’s easier to repeat which should help him stay consistent and, god-willing, healthy.
“My arsenal is the same, though some of the grips are slightly different,” he said. “But pretty much the same concepts, learning what I need out of each pitch and to get it to a consistent shape so I can use it the way I want to.”
Make no mistake, Brieske’s stuff is legit. A 94-mph four-seam fastball with above average ride (2,375 rpm spin rate), a sinker that when he’s right he can paint on the inside corner to right-handed hitters, an elite change-up that limited left-handed hitters to a .145 batting average and a work-in-progress slider that improved incrementally through each of his 15 starts.
“I feel like I’ve found my formula on how I want to attack and start to have success,” he said. “I know I have the ability to go through a lineup. I think I learned that last year. I didn’t start the way I wanted to. I knew I wasn’t throwing the way I know I could.
“I mean, giving up homers, falling behind in counts, tipping pitches, all that stuff I had to learn early. But I feel like I’ve made the adjustment.”
The Tigers rotation coming into camp features Eduardo Rodriguez, Matthew Boyd, Michael Lorenzen, Matt Manning and Spencer Turnbull. It looks solid on paper, but Turnbull hasn’t pitched since early 2021 and is coming off Tommy John surgery and Boyd was limited to 13 relief innings last season after coming back from flexor tendon surgery.
Lorenzen, Rodriguez and Manning missed big chunks of the 2022 season, as well, so innings could be limited across the board. Which is why young starters like Brieske, Garrett Hill, Rule 5 pick Mason Englert, Rony Garcia, Joey Wentz and others might be in contention for swing roles out of the bullpen.
“I will do anything to help the team win,” Brieske said. “I try to approach it as just proving myself as much as I can. Just show up and let them decide where they want to put me.
“I just want to give myself the best opportunity. Take care of what I need to take care of and go out and allow the work I put in this offseason, allow it to happen and perform the way I know I can.”
And if he does perform the way he showed he could in spurts last season, Brieske could be a valuable piece of the Tigers’ pitching puzzle.